A taste of India

A taste of India Popi Kuroda, President of Eatwell Co

TOKYO —

With so many Indian restaurants to choose from in the Tokyo metropolitan region, it can be a challenge to find a really good one. Look no further than Mumbai, which has 15 locations in Tokyo, Yokohama and Saitama. Under the watchful eye of Eatwell Co owner and president, Popi Kuroda, Mumbai promotes natural cooking and does not use any MSG or food coloring in its dishes.

Japan Today visits Kuroda at her first Mumbai restaurant in Kudan to hear more about the business.

What is your background?

I was born in Delhi but I have never really lived in India, other than for about two years. My father was in the diplomatic corps, so we lived all over the world. I ended up in Japan at the age of 19 and went to university here. For awhile, I did translating, teaching and then I was a mother and housewife. My husband was a professor at Tokyo University.

Why did you decide to start a restaurant chain?

I established Eatwell in 2005. Although I had been living in Japan for many years, I was homesick for India even though I never lived there. My mother advised me not to go back to India but to bring India here and do something connected with India. I always had a passion for food. I like cooking and I had many memories of what my mother and grandmother cooked.

So I started looking around for a place to start. The first restaurant was here at Kudanshita, which used to be a yaki-niku place. There were many Indian restaurants at the time but I thought, well, one more won’t hurt. I started it more as a hobby, to be connected with India. Fortunately, Kudanshita is next to the Indian Embassy, so that helped. Embassy people come here often and we cater for them.

How would you describe the image of Indian cuisine among Japanese consumers?

Indian cuisine has so much depth to it and that hasn’t been appreciated by Japanese customers who tend to think of it as just curry, nan and rice. We have lots of regional food and that’s something we want to promote at Mumbai.

Have you changed the taste to suit the Japanese palate?

I like to use a lot of spices but spices don’t necessarily have to be pungent or have that fiery heat, which people tend to automatically associate with Indian cuisine. Flavor is more important. Japanese prefer it not too spicy. Fiery curries are not as popular anymore as they once were. We don’t use any MSG or food coloring preservatives. For example, that fiery red color you see in tandoori chicken at some Indian restaurants comes from food coloring.

How many restaurants do you have?

Right now, we have 15 Mumbai restaurants, including one in Yokohama and two in Saitama. In the future, I’d like to open restaurants in Shinagawa and Shinjuku. Somewhere near a hotel would be ideal.

How often do you visit the 15 restaurants?

As much as possible. I go there as a customer to eat and see how the service is. Fortunately, I have good managers at each of my branches. Over the years, some staff have left but many have come back.

How often do you eat Indian food?

At least once a day, at the restaurants. At home, I usually cook Japanese food.

What is a typical day for you?

My office is here at the Kudanshita restaurant, so I come here about 11 a.m. Around 4 or 5 p.m., I go out to visit one or two restaurants. I eat, live and dream my business.

How do you like to relax?

I love reading and travelling. I’m interested in publishing books in Japanese about India, maybe even a cookbook.

Japan Today readers can receive a 10% discount at certain Mumbai restaurants. Click here for details.

Japan Today

  • 4

    gaijintraveller

    Most Indian food in Japan is rather disappointing, catering too much to Japanese taste. I think tyhe interviewer could have asked some more interesting questions about the food. Do they use Japanese or an Indian rice such as basmati? Do any of the dishes contain fresh chillies?

    The Indian restaurants that cater to Japanese taste or always disappointing. The restaurants that do not cater to Japanese taste or the ones that stand out.

  • 4

    Pukey2

    I agree with gaijin traveller. I find that most of the Indian restaurants here serve curries that are too rich and greasy. And most Indians I've met don't normally eat naan. I love South Indian food, but sadly that's not well known in Japan.

  • 0

    sighclops

    I buy my curry packs online, along with papadums. "S & B Spice Resort" are pretty authentic and full of flavour. For good curry in Tokyo, you've gotta go out to Edogawa. Plenty of fantastic Indian restaurants around Koiwa / Shin-Koiwa!

  • 8

    zichi

    Most Indian food in Japan is rather disappointing, catering too much to Japanese taste.

    That's not true here in Kobe City with its large Indian community, there are many good restaurants even for vegetarians. You can find many restaurants with Indians eating there.

    Good packets of various kinds of spices including Indian and Thai are available at import shops. We make our own Indian curry once a week. Don't like the Japanese curry which is war too oily.

  • 5

    Tessa

    And most Indians I've met don't normally eat naan.

    That's too bad, most Japanese people I know fall in love with naan the first time they try it (at the better restaurants, that is). I think that making good naan is truly an art.

  • 1

    paulinusa

    When in Tokyo I find the small local Indian restaurants are the best.

  • 1

    SenseNotSoCommon

    Most Indian food in Japan is rather disappointing, catering too much to Japanese taste

    The same could be said of curry houses in the UK, for example. People will yearn for what they know and understand to be 'authentic,' be it keema curry or chicken tikka masala. If people can't decipher the menu, fear of the unknown kicks in.

  • -1

    mabotofu

    Most Indian food in Japan is rather disappointing, catering too much to Japanese taste

    Couldn't agree more! Try dhaba near kyobashi eki. Its probably the best one in Tokyo.

  • 0

    Michael Reed

    Nice. :)

  • 2

    Pukey2

    Try dhaba near kyobashi eki. Its probably the best one in Tokyo.

    I just checked out their homepage. They have a South Indian thali and also dosas -one of my absolute favourites. As usual, not that cheap, but it maybe worthwhile trying once. I also love iddlies and uttapam, especially with coconut chutney - these will have to come from the Indian grocers.

  • 1

    jazz350

    Many of the Indian restaurants are lousy in Japan. Several are owned by Nepalis who undergo a crash course is so-called Indian cooking at schools in Osaka which prepares them for "Indian" cuisine. The entire process is ludicrous. Indian cuisine is very regional and diverse. The North Indian Mughlai cuisine is mainly served in many of the Indian restaurants all over the world, but this is only the tip of the ice-berg. The majority of States in India have nothing in common with this cuisine.

  • 1

    NathalieB

    Can I just say, with all the miserable stories/anecdotes/comments of late about women succeding in Japan - GO POPI !!!! A successful businesswoman AND (I am assuming) successfully married to a Japanese guy! Please PM me your secret! ;)

    Seriously - wherever I have lived in the world I have always had to have a local Indian. I wish there had been a Mumbai closer to me when I was in Japan because the emphasis on natural and no MSG sounds great.

    I wish Popi and her chain all the success in the world and when we come back to Japan (as Im sure we will as hubby not doing so great outside his comfort zone at the moment) we will definitely look up this place.

  • -2

    Gaijin Desi

    "One Life Is Not Enough To Enjoy Indian Cuisine" and Japanese not even get a taste of that.

  • 0

    Carlos Godoy

    The Mumbai in kudanshita is Excellent. The food is very non-Japanese. I had no idea they had so many branches.

  • 0

    how to get gimelim

    Would not recommend any of the Indian food chain stores. All taste cheap and awful.

    I like a place called Delhi Dining close to DENA baseball stadium/Chinatown in Kannai, Yokohama. Mix of Southern and Northern cuisine without trying to save on adding spices like all those big places.

    Once I got into an argument with the chef of a P***s restaurant. Basically he did not add any spices which he denied but refused to cook the same curry I was offered in front of me event hough I would have paid the extra charge for it. Pretty shoddy places and pretty shoddy owners exist here in Japan.

  • 0

    murthy iyer

    MAISON MUMBAI... The hundred miles (foot) journey.. Bon Chance

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